“I will support Vice President Boakai in all of his endeavour according to how he sets his program to become President. I will give him the fullest support but he will get it the same way I got it. Anybody who gets it, will get it the way I got it, they will go and they will campaign for it and they will fight for it, they will set their targets and they will get it. Besides, it is very important for Liberia’s political maturity to have a peaceful transition for the first time in three decades. It’s important for us and I will not deny the country that, by not seeing it through” – President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
Monrovia - Zeroing in on the 2017 Presidential elections, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, nearing the end of her second and final term has for the first time hinted at the possibility that the ruling Unity Party could pair with an opposition political party in a bid to maintain grip on power. Speaking in an exclusive interview with FrontPageAfrica at the weekend, the incumbent said due to the multitude of political parties in the country, it will be difficult for a single party to win state power on its own. “There is just one thing I like to say, there is no political party as I see it, based on my political experience that will win these elections without a coalition. I don’t think any political party can win on its own giving the number of parties. So if you see people negotiating, dialoguing it is because that they have all realized that some coalition has to be made for a particular party or parties to be successful.” Sirleaf’s assertions suggest the 2017 political play could bear some similarity to the formula that brought the ruling party to power in 2006. Merger in the Cards In 2005, 22 candidates contested the presidential elections while 16 candidates contest the presidency in the 2011 presidential elections. In 1997, the elections that brought Charles Taylor to power saw 13 candidates eyeing the presidency. On the eve of the 2011 presidential elections, the ruling Unity Party sealed a deal in Ganta, Nimba County, forming a merger with the Liberia Action Party (LAP) and the Liberia Unification Party (LUP). That same year saw the opposition Liberty Party form a merger with the New Deal Movement (NDM) followed by another merger involving the Dew Mayson-led National Democratic Coalition(NDC). George Weah’s Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) signed a memorandum of understanding with Winston Tubman, the political leader of the Liberian National Union (LINU). Chapter 8.1 of the guidelines of the National Elections Commission stipulates that registered political parties may be allowed to merge or consolidate. However, “Registered political parties wishing to merge or consolidate shall each pass a resolution consenting to the merger or consolidation signed by 2/3 of the members of the executive committee. In case of merger, a statement of any amendment in articles of incorporation of the surviving registered political party to be effected by such merger, and in case of consolidation, all statements required to be included in articles in incorporation for a political party.” In recent months, speculations have heightened that backdoor dealings amongst various political parties were going on ahead of the 2017 presidential elections but not without glitches. The opposition Congress for Democratic Change or CDC whose political leader, Weah is poised to announce his candidacy later this month, recently set pre-condition to merge with any political party, including the Liberty Party, which has been pursuing merger with the CDC. The Congress for Democratic Change has come second in two Presidential elections since 2005, while the Liberty Party came third in 2005 and fourth in 2011, respectively. In July, the CDC said for Liberty Party or any political party to form a merger with it, particularly wanting to take the standard bearer position such party should be to go thru county primaries in all 15 political sub-divisions of Liberia. National Chairman Nathaniel McGill suggested that primaries will be conducted by the National Elections Commission or NEC with funding to be provided by the two parties involve. Cllr. Charles W. Brumskine, political leader of the Liberty Party told FrontPageAfrica in a recent interview that he was open to discussion merger options with other political parties. Brumskine, whose party saw a merger attempt with CDC fall apart in 2011, has acknowledged that the negotiations process was mishandled. “I think 2011 was mishandled, we don’t want to place blame on Senator Weah, the CDC or ourselves, I think the process was mishandled. Personally, Senator Weah and I have a good relationship like I have tried to develop with all the other politicians including Senator Johnson from Nimba and all the other politicians; we are trying to work with them”. No Mistrust Between Boakai, EJS The incumbent also expressed confidence in the ability of the National Elections Commission ensure a credible 2017 general and presidential elections. “We have the National Elections Commission that has carried out two or three successive and successful elections; so to me they have the capacity to do. We hope they look at the electoral guidelines with a little more rigidity, that they will be tougher, to ensure that we have the number of parties that will not be overwhelming as it seems to be, they need to make sure that the processes of elections are free and fair”. The President added that the international community will be heavily involved in the process, not just to come in on the day or week of elections, but long before the ballots are cast. “We want them to come now, so they can examine the system, they did it once before with some of the by-elections, they tell us that our system was better than many other countries in terms of the inability for people to really cheat, we are asking them to do it again.” The President averred that needs to be a political discussions and associations, so that political parties themselves can exercise restraint and remain lawful and peaceful in a context. “We need to have all of these things to have it. I do believe that the Liberian people want to have elections, they want to have peaceful and safe elections. They want to be able to choose a leader that they want and they want us to move, forward. For me Liberia political test of maturity will be the election that is coming up in 2017, so I will do all I can to make it happen.” Regarding her expressed support for her Vice President Joseph Boakai, the President completely ruled out suggestions in some corners that she should step aside now and allow the VP to have some room to show himself as a presidential material, standing on his own. EJS Unwavering Support for VP Boakai Said President Sirleaf: “I will support Vice President Boakai in all of his endeavour according to how he sets his program to become President. I will give him the fullest support but he will get it the same way I got it. Anybody who gets it, will get it the way I got it, they will go and they will campaign for it and they will fight for it, they will set their targets and they will get it. Besides, it is very important for Liberia’s political maturity to have a peaceful transition for the first time in three decades. It’s important for us and I will not deny the country that, by not seeing it through.” The President dismissed suggestions of strain ties between she and her Vice President. “There has never been any mistrust between me and the Vice President”. In fact, Sirleaf said the bond between she and the Vice President goes deeper. “He has been a long-time friend with me and my family and my husband, so there is no distrust there. So I was never afraid to give him any limelight for fear that he will want my job, not at all. On the other hand, he is a Vice President who is running, the campaign is going to be his campaign. He will have to dictate how he wants it, how much he wants to build on the existing progress to which we have both contributed so much, will be his call, whether he wants to strike off and show that he has a different path that will be his choice and I am going to work with him whichever way he wants”. Boakai Bracing for Leading-Man Role? A key part of Boakai’s emergence as a leading man could face a stern test within the party which has seen a number of high profile figures not shy away from a presidential quest of their own. That field includes two former Foreign Ministers in Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan and Dr. Toga McIntosh who declared his intentions to contest the standard bearer-ship of the ruling party Monday during an appearance on the Truth Breakfast Show. House Speaker Alex Tyler, who was a member of the Liberian Action Party merger with Unity Party recently stepped down from the ruling party due to what he termed dissatisfaction "over the ill manner the Party has treated Bomi County(his hometown)." The Vice President still enjoys the support of the party’s base including Defense Minister Brownie Samukai who has denied politicizing the country’s military but defended his choice for 2017 in a recent VOA Daybreak Africa interview. "The constitution provides that each and every Liberian citizen has a right to vote his or her choice," Samukai told VOA. "... And if my choice is going to be the Vice President, yes, it is my choice to vote for him as I want. However, my choice should not interfere with the professional function of the Armed Forces of Liberia."